The information in this section is provided to assist H-1B employees and their dependent family members in understanding the benefits and limitations of H-4 dependent status. Please note that H-1B employees have the responsibility for obtaining and ensuring immigration compliance for any dependents in H-4 status. The International Center can provide general advice or refer you to an immigration attorney for assistance on specific matters relating to the legal affairs of family members.
H-4 Status Defined
H-1B employees can request H-4 status for their legal spouse and/or dependent unmarried minor children under the age of 21. Dependent children lose H-4 status when they get married or turn 21, whichever comes first. Since H-4 status is based on the principal H-1B employee's status, dependents lose H-4 status if the employee ends or otherwise ceases to maintain valid H-1B status.
H-4 Study and Employment Benefits
Dependents in H-4 status are permitted to study while in the US, on either a part-time or full-time basis. H-4 dependents are not allowed to work while in the US. However, certain H-4 spouses may be eligible to apply to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) for H-4 employment authorization. Employment authorization is typically available only if the principal H-1B employee is at an advanced stage of the US permanent residence process.
Obtaining and Extending H-4 Status
Procedures for acquiring and extending H-4 status will vary depending on whether the dependents are accompanying you or will seek H-4 status at a later date. Please read the descriptions below for specific guidance.
Obtaining H-4 Status (Consular Process)
If your dependents are outside of the US and wish to accompany you to the US as H-4 dependents, your family members will need to apply for H-4 visas at a US consulate (note: citizens of Canada are not required to apply for visas, but must show documents establishing eligibility when requesting H-4 status upon arrival in the US). They may apply for H-4 visas at the same time you apply for your own H-1B visa, or separately if they plan to join you in the US at a later time. For visa application instructions, review the information provided by the US consulate where you and/or your family members will apply for your visas. At minimum, your dependents should be prepared to show the following:
a valid passport
copy of the H-1B employee's passport identity page and H-1B visa (if applying after the H-1B employee has obtained his/her own visa)
copy oI-797 Approval Notice showing Tufts University as the petitioner / employer, and proof of employment or employment offer (such as a copy of an employment offer letter or confirmation letter)
evidence of financial ability, such as the H-1B employee's employment offer letter or salary information
proof of marital / family relationship between the H-1B employee and the H-4 spouse and/or dependent children
If your dependents are already in the US in another status, or seeking to extend H-1B / H-4 status, then follow the guidelines found in the next section labeled for "Changing to or Extending H-4 Status."
Obtaining H-4 Status (In-Country Process)
This information is in reference to dependents are already in the US in another status seeking an in-country change to H-4 status. To change to H-4 status from another status, the dependent must file Form I-539 (and Form I-539A , if necessary, for each additional co-applicant, such as dependent minor children) along with the correct fees and supporting materials to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).
Eligibility to do an in-country change to H-4 status may depend on several factors, including the dependent's current status and status expiration date. In general, the dependent's current status must be valid up to the start of the intended H-4 status. Because of legal limitations, the International Center is unable to advise directly on individual cases. We recommend consulting with an immigration attorney for specific guidance on completing a Form I-539 change of status application.
Extending H-4 Status (In-Country Process)
This information is in reference to dependents already in the US in H-4 status seeking to extend H-4 status through an in-country process. An in-country extension requires the H-4 dependent(s) to file Form I-539 (and Form I-539A , if necessary, for each additional co-applicant, such as dependent minor children) along with the correct fees and supporting materials to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).
International Center Policy on H-4 Extensions
H-4 dependents are eligible to extend H-4 status only if the principal H-1B employee's status is being extended. Once the International Center initiates an H-1B extension process, the employee (1) must notify the International Center if they have any H-4 dependents, and how many; and (2) whether they will provide the International Center with a completed I-539 extension application for the International Center to submit to USCIS along with the H-1B extension request for the employee, or if they will submit the H-4 extension request directly to USCIS themselves.
Please note that the Form I-539 extension application is considered the personal responsibility of the H-1B employee and the H-4 dependents themselves. Consequently, the International Center is unable to prepare or complete Form I-539 for dependents seeking extensions of H-4 status. However, as a courtesy to the H-1B employee, the International Center will include an I-539 extension application for H-4 dependents along with the extension petition the International Center will prepare for the principal H-1B employee. The H-1B employee must indicate whether or not they would like to arrange for a courtesy submission or if they will pursue the H-4 extension on their own. If the H-1B employee would like the International Center to submit the I-539 application and supporting materials, the H-1B employee is responsible for submitting the completed I-539 application packet to the International Center by the time is ready to submit the H-1B extension request to USCIS.
The International Center will not review Form I-539 or any supporting materials for accuracy but can refer H-1B employees and their H-4 dependents to a qualified immigration attorney for guidance and assistance in preparing the I-539 application. However, the International Center will review a Form I-539 packet for the following:
Correct Form I-539 filing fee has been included for the correct amount
Correct biometrics fee included for each H-4 applicant
Form I-539 signatures
The International Center does not receive any information related to submission of the I-539 petition, including the receipt notice or the approval notice from USCIS. Because the Form I-539 extension is a personal application, we are not authorized to contact USCIS to inquire on the status of individual I-539 extension cases.
Records Retention: The International Center does not copy or maintain any records pertaining to your dependent’s H-4 status. We do not make or keep a copy of the I-539 extension petition or any receipt notices or approval notices. We strongly recommend that you keep your own personal copies of any documents relating to the status of H-4 dependents.
Form I-539 Extension Applications: Main Components
It is up to each H-4 dependent to understand and follow Form I-539 application instructions. If the H-4 dependent is a minor child under 14, the H-1B employee may sign forms on their behalf. The principal components of a Form I-539 extension application will include:
A completed and signed USCIS Form I-539 for the H-4 spouse or child (if there is no spouse) marked for either a change to or extension of H-4 status
A completed and signed USCIS Form I-539A Supplemental Form for each additional co-applicant / child requesting H-4 status
USCIS I-539 filing fee (currently US $370), made payable by US bank check or money order to the "US Department of Homeland Security"**
USCIS biometrics fee (currently $85 for each applicant and co-applicant), made payable by US bank check or money order to the "US Department of Homeland Security"**
Copies of passport identification pages for each co-applicant
Copies of Form I-94 departure record for each co-applicant
Copies of previously issued H-4 visas (if applicable) or approval notices
Proof of family / marital relationship for each H-4 dependent
If seeking a change of status, evidence of valid current status (e.g., Form I-20, DS-2019, EAD cards, etc.)
If any H-4 applicant was subject to the J-1 visa two-year home residence requirement, proof that the requirement was either satisfied or waived
**Each individual fee should be paid by separate checks or money orders made payable to "US Department of Homeland Security." Click here for more information about paying US Department of Homeland Security fees, including instructions on how to complete a US bank check.
Tips and Suggestions for Preparing I-539 Applications
When preparing the I-539 / I-539A application to request or extend H-4 status, take these steps to minimize chances of rejection or delay:
If extending H-4 status, check the status expiration date for the H-1B employee and for each H-4 dependent member - extensions must be submitted beforethe current status expiration date
Make sure all answers to Form I-539 / I-539A are written in black ink and are clear and legible (or typed), and signed and dated in original ink
Make sure that all copies of required documents are clear and readable
Make sure that the correct fees have been included
If paying fees by personal or cashier's check, make sure that the checks have been completed, dated and signed correctly and made payable to the "US Department of Homeland Security" following USCIS guidelines for paying Homeland Security fees